I fell in love.
Biting into a warm garden tomato, fingers smelling of the vine, lips slurping to catch all of the sweet ripe freshness, is the essence of summer. The scent of summer has always been basil—even in mid-winter when the herb comes from half a world away, I can close my eyes, sniff a leaf and experience summer again.
Fresh tomatoes and basil are a love-match.
Here I made pesto for the penne and served it over a very lightly cooked tomato and summer squash sauce.
One can be
As well as tomato loves basil, the pair is out of sequence in my garden. Basil becomes a bush well before most of the tomatoes are ripe. No amount of pinching out the flowers seems to hold it back. Basil gets old, thin and yellow before the tomatoes mature.
Here, I made ramen noodles with scallops and shrimp, a dashi-tomato-rice vinegar sauce topped with toasted sesame seeds.
Based on hiyashi Chuka soba.
And so a justification for my love affair.
The shiso we planted started slowly, growing gently as the summer passed: tender leaves to accent the flavors of summer vegetables, add color to chicken or rice. Just as the bigger best-er-est tomatoes ripened, the shiso became robust.
Do you see the betrayed basil: old, dry around the edges, big bitter flowers going to seed before its time? And there is the shiso looking so vibrant with its delicate juicy buds that it is blushing with exuberance.
Note the osage oranges, an autumnal inedible but decorative fruit—a gift from a friend who accepted some of my basil.
I’ll admit, my first experiments with shiso began in August.
I thought about pesto, an illicit new version of pesto using shiso, a tasty adventure from the condoned basil.
Go ahead, click the pic—it’s not so bad to sometimes stray from the norm!
it was delicious.
As lovely and organic as shiso is, it does have a sort of day-old stubble which collects some debris. If you like smooth and clean, then you must wash the leaves carefully to get rid of spider webs, dust, and whatever miscellaneous attitudes rough textures collect. I clean all greens in a large pot of water, stirring it, then letting the dirt settle, gently pulling out the leaves from the top. Works a charm.
For herbs and salad greens, I have discovered a simple spinner to whirl them dry.
I used to wrap the greens in a dish towel and spin around outside the back door to remove the water.
Like a crazy person.
This little plastic spinner is much more efficient
Peeled, crushed, and lightly cooked tomatoes make a simple summer sauce. Cut an X in the skin on the blossom end, and remove a cone from the stem end. Put the tomatoes into vigorously boiling water. When the X begins to expand, douse each tomato in ice-water. Peel the skin with your fingers. Slice the tomatoes into wedges. Over a strainer, smoosh the seeds from the flesh. Save the tomato water for another use. Crush or tear the fruit into bite-sized pieces.
I made a pistou by chopping a clove of garlic and a ½ cup of shiso with ¼ cup of good olive oil. Pistou is the French herb-oil version of pesto, without the nuts. The clean flavor of shiso is prominent, uncompromised by almonds or cheese. Thin spaghetti was cooked al denté, tossed with the pistou, and served over fresh tomatoes. A little salt and pepper and the dish was luscious.
My pièce de résistance includes mushrooms, especially the large king oyster mushrooms, also known as king trumpet mushroom, French horn mushroom, and eringi エリンギ. When cooked, it develops typical mushroom umami flavors with a meaty texture.
For contrast I also used enoki (Japanese language：榎, エノキ) mushrooms: the ones with the long thin stems and tiny caps. They are best eaten raw for their crispy texture.
The tomato season has ended, but we still have tomatoes from the garden which were almost ripe before the cold. They are ripening in a bowl, with some apples for luck (or more likely the ethylene gas). They don’t have as much juicy-to-the core delight; in fact some of them have the familiar flavorless whitish heart of a grocery-store tomato.
It occurred to me that miso would add the missing umami to these poor orphans.
Notice the osage orange, the black one? I poked whole cloves into it: I usually keep it in the foyer so when you visit, you’ll notice the scent as you come in.
For 4 servings:
Make a pistou with a clove of garlic and a cup of shiso with ½ cup of good olive oil. I found that using my suribachi made a much smoother sauce than using the mini-food processor. But it was hard to clean out all those grooves!
Slice the king oyster mushrooms. Sauté in a bit of olive oil and grated garlic.
Cut off the root end of the bunch of enoki, and slice in half lengthwise (easier to eat).
Peel and squish out the seeds of 7 to 10 nice tomatoes. Crush them.
Warm the tomatoes, just until they start to break down: you want to retain the fresh flavor! Stir and blend in about 1 generous Tablespoon of white miso.
Cook and drain your spaghetti. Toss the pasta with the shiso pistou.
Divide the sauce among 4 pasta plates, place the noodles over the tomatoes, and garnish with toasted sesame seeds or shredded nori.